One of my favourite authors, James Clear, defines habits as the compound interest of self-improvement. He wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” a highly praised self-help book designed to reshape the way we think about progress and success. After I read this book, I felt like I had a stronger understanding of the framework of how habits are formed, and it familiarized me with the scientific research behind habit formation. The bitesize chapters and simple anecdotes were practical, digestible, and thought-provoking.
We are all habitual creatures. We live our lives on autopilot and often don’t realize how deeply our habits are engrained into our daily routine.
Before we dive into it, what even is a habit? Habits are little decisions and behaviours we make/do every day. These can be helpful or harmful. Our lives, fundamentally, are the sum of our habits—from nutrition to stress to exercise.
Here are some examples of positive habits you may want to incorporate into your daily routine:
- Writing in a gratitude journal
- Washing your hands
- Reading every day
- Going to bed at a certain time to ensure you get a good night’s sleep
- Drinking water regularly
- Brushing your teeth after eating a meal
Here are some examples of habits you may want to break:
- Mindless scrolling on social media
- Eating too much junk food
- Biting your nails
- Leaving your dirty clothes on the floor
- Drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks close to bedtime
When you want to incorporate a new healthy habit into your daily life, there are four laws of behaviour change that can help make habits stick. These tips can also be reversed to break negative habits.
- Make it obvious: the more obvious or visible it is, the more likely it will stick. To break a habit, put it out of sight—the less obvious or visible it is, the less likely you will be to engage.
- Make it attractive: the more appealing, the more motivated you will feel to do it. For breaking bad habits, make it unattractive so you will be less tempted to do it.
- Make it easy: the more simple, convenient, and frictionless a habit is, the more likely is to be performed. Break a bad habit by making it hard or less convenient. Put up some barriers.
- Make it more satisfying: the more enjoyable, and the more you get a sense of pleasure, it gives your brain a signal to repeat in the future. To break a habit, make it less satisfying. The more you do not enjoy it, the more it gives your brain a signal to not repeat again in the future.
Habit stacking can also help. Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to incorporate small changes into a routine that you have already established. The key to consistency is to treat a habit stack like a single action, rather than a series of individual tasks. In other words, try meditating right after you brush your teeth in the morning, adding a piece of fruit with your lunch, or doing some stretches immediately after your workout.
At this point, I’m sure you understand just how POWERFUL out habits are, and how they shape who we are—from our actions to our attitudes. The truth is that forming positive habits is not always easy, and as you may already be able to imagine, some habits are harder or easier to form than others. For example, replacing your morning coffee with a tea latte might be easier than quitting all forms of caffeine at once.
I like to think of building healthy habits like developing the major pillars of personal growth. With these tips, hopefully you will feel propelled to learn more and improve your life little by little. I wish you all the success in establishing good habits moving forward!